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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Airline Mechanics Are Supposed To Keep Planes In The Air, Not On The Ground

     On July 17, 2019 American Airlines Flight 2834 with 150 passengers aboard was about to depart from Miami en route to Nassau, Bahamas when an error message appeared in the cockpit that caused the Boeing 737-800 to taxi back to the gate and be taken out of service. The passengers were taken off the plane and put on another flight.

     Maintenance inspectors found that someone had inserted a piece of foam into a tube that obstructed the aircraft's flight navigation system. Specifically, the foreign object affected the pilot's ability to monitor air speed, pitch and other flight data.

     Following an investigation into the matter, Miami FBI agents, on September 4, 2019, arrested 60-year-old Abdul-Majeed Marquf Ahmed Alani, an airline mechanic who had worked at American Airlines since 1988.  He was a U.S. citizen who was born in Baghdad, Iraq.

     A local Assistant United States Attorney charged Alani with sabotaging an aircraft.

     Alani told his federal interrogators that he had been upset about the stalled contract negotiations between the airline and the mechanics union. He said the labor dispute had hurt him financially and that he tampered with the plane's navigation system to cause a flight delay in anticipation of overtime work. Alani insisted that it had not been his intention to harm the aircraft or endanger its passengers.

     Mr. Alani had also worked as an aircraft mechanic for Alaska Airlines. But in 2008, after working there twenty years during which time he was also employed at American Airlines, he was fired. Alaska Airlines let him go because he had made several maintenance mistakes. In 2010 Alani sued Alaska Airlines for wrongful termination due to discrimination based on his national origin. He lost his case. The FAA briefly suspended his airlines mechanic license.

     On September 6, 2019 American Airlines fired the suspected aircraft saboteur and in March 2020 he was convicted of sabotaging an aircraft. The federal judge sentenced Mr. Alani to 37 months in prison. 

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